Monthly Archives: December 2012

Confessions of a Literary Slut

I’m a slut. That is to say, I am happy to bestow my favours for free upon anyone who asks.

You see, I wrote this science-fiction novel called Sybernika which is set in the near future and explores – amongst other things – the impact that faster and cheaper computers will have on society. It is an edgy work, in that it has much that certain people might find offensive – sex, violence, swearing and other fun stuff.

Little wonder then that publishers who were keen to publish the book (three of them) also demanded I make changes to ‘tone things down’ as it were. This I felt I could not do without damaging the integrity of my work. (Precious, I know, but it’s not my fault that I care .)

I was beginning to despair of finding a publisher for my baby when I stumbled upon Philistine Press, a truly remarkable outfit. What makes them different to most publishers is that they give it away.

Yep. You heard. They give it away.

Now why the heck would they want to do that?

To quote from their website: ‘We’re here to publish material that wouldn’t ordinarily be published by mainstream presses, or accepted by the literary establishment.’

Frank Burton, Philistine’s founder and head honcho, thinks giving it away is a great idea. His reasoning being that very, very few books make a worthwhile amount of money and it’s better to give away a 1,000 books than to sell a half dozen for a couple of quid each.

You can see his point, can’t you?

And with the profit motive out of the way, there’s no need to pander to the market place. So you don’t have to follow trends and (more importantly) you don’t have to impose censorship on your authors.

I realised at once that Philistine was the perfect home for Sybernika.

Thankfully, Philistine agreed and now Sybernika is out there – untamed, uncensored and willing to go with anyone who asks.

The book was (kinda) launched last March at the Not the Oxford Literary Festival fringe event held in the fabulous Albion Beatnik book shop in Oxford. After Frank gave a speech detailing Philistine’s activities and rationale, I gave a short reading from Sybernika.

Also present was Banana the Poet whose Endaxi Press publishes poetry.  She was quite adamant that Endaxi would never contemplate selling its books for nothing. Part of her reasoning was that if you give it away, nobody appreciates it.

The lady has a point.

I suspect Sybernika has ‘outsold’ any of Endaxi’s books by a factor of 100. But how many of the people who’ve downloaded Sybernika will actually read it? Very few.

Each Endaxi book, however, will be read at least once and probably several times by several people.

So why go down the free route?

In the case of Sybernika, I had two prime motives. The first I’ve already mentioned: I did not want my baby butchered to suit somebody else’s middle class sensibilities. My second motive was, of course, exposure.

With everybody and their brother inflicting their work on the Internet, it’s very hard to get noticed. Quite frankly, I’m not sure of the best way to go about it and I seriously doubt anyone else does. And there’s no point studying the journey of the best sellers – 50 Shades of Gray etc…– because they make it more by luck than judgement. What works for one person doesn’t for thousands of others and may never work again for the person for whom it did work in the first place.

So what’s a boy to do?

I’ve gone for a scatter-gun approach. With every new book I put out there, I try something different. So I have books that are self-published, books that are published through publishing houses such as Philistine and Musa, free books, cheap books, not so cheap books, ebooks, paperbacks, books on Smashwords and books on  Kindle Direct. On top of that, I have this (woefully neglected) blog and I whore myself on Facebook where I have over 1,000 ‘friends’.

Now all I can do is hope for that elusive breakthrough where some sort of dark alchemy kicks in and word-of-mouth creates a buzz for me and my work.

And in the meantime, I’m more than happy to give it away for free . At least some of the time.

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An open letter to the criminal organisation that is the BBC

Dear BBC,

please get your collective head out of your collective arse. Nobody really cares that you dropped a Newsnight report about the vile crimes of Jimmy Savile. Stop with the chest-beating will you? If you want to mea culpa, get a grip on the culpa you’re mea-culping about.

Your real crime is not that you didn’t blow the whistle on a vile pervert once he was dead and so couldn’t be punished for his evil. Your crime is that you did nothing to prevent the vile pervert doing what he did when you knew damn well what he was doing and you had every opportunity to have the walking excrement that was Savile put away.

This guy molested little girls, buggered little boys and f***ed corpses. All against their will.

Read that bit again. Absorb it. Understand it. Acknowledge it.

Now separate cranium from fundament.

We are not talking about something minor here. As crimes go, raping children takes some beating. He buggered. He raped. He desecrated children.

The BBC apologising for not running an item – on a  program few people watch – about the BBC allowing one of their staff to ruin hundreds of lives is like Hitler apologising for bringing toothbrush moustaches into disrepute.

Do you think someone whose childhood has been stolen from them gives a flying monkey’s about some internal inquiry that’s led to a few of your underlings getting a slapped wrist? Does that really make up for a lifetime of guilt and self-loathing?

Do you know what made me sick?

The other day, when BBC News led with their gormless, ineffective and rather pointless enquiry into the so-called ‘Savile Affair’, your second item was about major developments in the Hillsborough affair. You actually thought your entirely predictable whitewash was more newsworthy than the admission by the British establishment of its complicity in the slaughter of 96 of its citizens.

By` turning a blind eye to the crimes of Jimmy Savile, the BBC acted like those German citizens who lived near concentration camps without seeing the ashes drifting down from the crematoria chimneys onto their rose bushes.

You are very anxious to restore a reputation you never had in the first place. Shame on you for thinking that should be your top priority.

Chris Patten: bow your head in shame.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

let’s cut the crap. You don’t like me and I don’t like you.

We loathe each other.

For most of the year, our mutual hatred matters not one jot (at least not to me). But now it’s that time of year again when traditionally I let you know how good I’ve been and you treat me with utter contempt. Even as I write, you’re probably sitting on your fat arse, gleefully rubbing your hands in expectation of yet another chance to dash my hopes and leave me feeling dejected.

Well, Mister, I’ve news for you. This year things are going to be different.

And do you know why?

Because I’ve got you sussed, that’s why.

You give your official address as The North Pole. Hogwash! In 1909 a man named Peary led an expedition to where you supposedly live and found nothing but snow, snow and more blooming snow.

No toy factories. No elves. No reindeer. And no you.

In the meantime, I’ve clocked you in England more times than I care to count. You might think a false beard and a red hood is a good disguise, but I don’t fool that easily.

Just the other night, I saw you in the local flea market, standing beneath a Christmas tree and ringing a bell.

‘Yo ho ho,’ you said, over and over in a manner I frankly found annoying.

In brave defiance of several court orders, I followed you home so now I know for sure where you really live. All that bollocks about living at the North Pole is just that: bollocks.

I’ve got your number, matey. You’re faking non-domicile status in order to diddle the tax man.

How long has this been going on? Centuries, isn’t it?

I wouldn’t want to be in your boots if the tax man ever comes knocking on your door. All that back tax! Plus interest!

You must owe enough tax to clear the national debt twice over.

Now I’m no snitch and I’d hate to see you bankrupt, so I’m willing to reach some kind of accommodation with you.

Yep. It’s blackmail. Let’s call it what it is. And before you tell me it’s an ugly word, I have to say I disagree. Right now ‘blackmail’ is the most beautiful word in the world. If you want an ugly word, you should try ‘phlegm’ on for size.

So what do I want in exchange for keeping mum? Good question, Fatso.

Let’s start with what has been top of my wants list every year for as long as I can remember. Sure there are only so many Cameron Diazes and Jessica Albas to go around and they’re already spoken for. But you’ve got flying reindeer which suggests you’re a dab hand at genetic engineering. Therefore a bit of cloning must be well within your capabilities.

Secondly,  I want you to sort out a remake of ‘Daredevil’ as the original movie was abysmal. I’ll leave the casting up to you, but I get to vet the script and have final say on all editing decisions.

Next up is the guy down the road from me with the flash car, sharp suits and a never-ending stream of beautiful girlfriends.

Kill him.

And while you’re at it, you might want to throw in world peace and a cure for cancer but I won’t insist upon it.

So what do you say, Santa baby? It’s just as easy for me to send a letter to HMRC as it is to you. And – unlike you – the taxman doesn’t come just once a year.

The ball’s in your court.

Yours truly,

Patrick Whittaker.

Dear Sainsburys (and other Supermarkets) – Mind Your Own F###ing Business!

Dear Sainsburys,
your check out staff have taken to poking their noses into my business. Whenever I shop at one of your stores, they ask me how I am or what my plans are or some other puerile question.

Apparently they’ve been instructed to do so by some stuffed shirt at Head Office who thinks shoppers love being interrogated by complete strangers.

It’s not even as if anyone in your stores actually cares how I am. To them I’m just another in an endless line of faceless punters contributing to their minimum wage existence. Some of them are actually embarrassed about having to ask me inane questions. I have seen them squirm and it ain’t a pretty sight.

So how about it Sainsburys? Could you drop this daft idea – which only makes your customers and staff uncomfortable – and mind your own f###ing business? Or do I have to take my patronage to a rival chain which doesn’t think we’re all Americans now?

And while we’re at it, I’d have thought it obvious that anyone capable of going around a supermarket putting things in a basket would be equally capable of putting said items in a carrier bag.

So no – I don’t need help packing.

Yours sincerely,
Patrick Whittaker

A Passionate Plea for Censorship

Hitler spoke of the Big Lie. He wrote in Mein Kampf that the most effective lies are those so outrageous people can’t believe they’re not true. It’s the old ‘you couldn’t make it up’ shtick used for propaganda purposes.

It was this realisation that the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it that enabled Hitler to take over Germany and half of Europe despite having the silliest moustache in history.

Now nobody wants to be Hitler or even discover they have anything in common with the mono-testicular egomaniac, but I think we should all face one simple truth. Wittingly or not, we use the Big Lie technique on our children every day of their lives.

We feed them guff about Father Christmas, trolls, giants and dragons and seldom consider what effect such guff might have on their unformed, perfectly malleable minds.

Many of the stories have been handed down from generation to generation and are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years old.
Such stories delight our children. They stir their imaginations and make the world seem a happier, more magical place than it really is. Some, like the stories of Brer Rabbit or Aesops fables come with a moral attached which we hope will make our kids better citizens.

Now I’m no believer in censorship, but there is one story which I believe should be banned. One the surface it is a harmless enough tale with no violence and not so much as a hint of s-e-x. But when you examine it, it reveals itself as the most insidious, subversive piece of literature ever devised.

The story of The Hare and the Tortoise is a millennia old tale first told by a slave called Aesop in ancient Greece. Anyone reading this piece will almost certainly be very well acquainted with the story, but for those who aren’t, here’s a brief summary.

There’s this hare who thinks he’d God’s gift and is something of a bully. He starts picking on a tortoise, mocking him for his slowness. So what does the tortoise do? He challenges the hare to a race.

Come the day of the race, the hare has the tortoise eating his dust. By the time the finishing line is in sight, the tortoise is nowhere to be seen, so the hare decides to have a nap (as you would) before snatching his pathetic victory.

When he wakes up, however, he discovers the tortoise has beaten him.
And the moral of this heart warming tale?

Slow but sure wins the race.

How profound that sounds to a young mind. It is a lesson that sticks. All through our lives we unquestioningly repeat that mantra as if it were holy writ.

And yet, if you think about it – really, really think about it – it’s not true. The clue, dear friends, is in that last word: race.
I can do slow but sure as well as the next man. In fact, I have slow down to a fine art – just ask my boss.

If slow but sure really does win races, I would by now have a shed full of gold medals.

Why do we believe this nonsense? Why do we never question something so obviously wrong?

Let’s go back to the story and see if it makes the slightest sense.
So there’s this tortoise and he challenges a hare to a race. As if! I think it’s a safe bet to say that never in the history of hare-tortoise relations has such a challenge been made. I mean, what would be the point? If ever there was a foregone conclusion, there it is – right there.

A tortoise challenging a hare to a race is like Woody Allen calling out Mike Tyson.

OK. We can allow a bit of artistic licence. It is after all only a story.

So this tortoise bets this hare he can kick his butt when it comes to running. I’ll go along with that, but that’s it. If this was my story, I would have the hare laugh in the tortoise’s face and suggest they arm wrestle instead.

The moral of my version of the story would be: Don’t be silly. End of. Now go to sleep children and try not to have nightmares.
Now that makes sense, doesn’t it?

But Mr. Aesop has other ideas. He has a point he wishes to make and he doesn’t care how contrived a story he tells so long as he gets to make it.

This guy is determined to milk his artistic licence for all its worth. So we have this hare and this tortoise racing against each other. The hare, as we would expect, is soon a dot on the horizon. Up ahead, the finishing line beckons. The most one sided contest in history is about to reach its totally unspectacular conclusion.

But wait! Mr. Aesop has a twist up his sleeve. Never mind that it’s blatantly contrived and about as unlikely as Sarah Palin reading without moving her lips. So what? This is a kiddy’s story and as Roald Dahl once said, ‘The beauty of writing for children is that you can churn out any old drivel and the little buggers will lap it up.’

So we have this hare with victory in sight. And what does he do? He goes and has a nap.

Because that’s what sportsmen do, isn’t it? How many times did we see Mohammed Ali beat clearly superior boxers because the opposition suddenly decided to take a nap halfway through Round 7?

I’m obviously too young to remember the 1966 World Cup Final, but
I’m assured that England won only because the West Germans took an unscheduled siesta.

Oh and the Confederates were winning the battle of Gettysburg right up to the moment General Lee decided to lie down for a few minutes.
The Hare and the Tortoise is Hitler’s Big Lie writ large.

Even if the story was plausible – which it ain’t – is it sensible to draw from it the conclusion that slow but sure wins the race? I mean, if you saw that on television, is that really what you would be thinking?

Or would you conclude, as I do, that the moral of this very silly story is that if you want to win a race, you really shouldn’t go and have a kip part way through it?

Listen. If you want to tell your children a tale with a moral, tell them about how a tortoise outran a hare by taking steroids and doping the hare. You might be teaching them an ugly truth but isn’t that so much better than an ugly lie?